New Hanover County gives update on redistricting

NHCS Redistricting Meeting Sept 17 2019

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The process to re-work where students in New Hanover County go to school is about halfway complete according to the consulting firm hired by the school system.

Cropper GIS, LLC and the county’s redistricting committee gave a progress report on the process.

Over the summer months, the committee met with Cropper consultants twice — Hurricane Dorian led to the cancellation of what would have been the third meeting on Sept. 4.

In those meetings, the committee and Cropper staff further refined the proposed new districts, landing on two they felt comfortable officially unveiling to the public.

The main differences between the two, said company president Matthew Cropper, have to do with how districts are distributed across central and northern New Hanover County.

A map depicts one of the options, 3a, for new school districts in New Hanover County.
A map depicts one of the options, 3a, for new school districts in New Hanover County. (Source: New Hanover County Schools)

Cropper said he and the committee wanted to emphasize that the maps and plans are still drafts — the exact details could still change before a final draft is submitted to the school board for consideration in December.

Then, he said, the board could still alter the maps further, if the members wish.

Seeking Feedback

Cropper said the main goal now is to continue getting input from parents and other stakeholders.

The website detailing the redistricting process has already received thousands of responses, Cropper said, all of which are sent to the committee for review.

However, Cropper said the process “is not a popularity contest,” and just because hundreds of people feel a particular way, doesn’t mean that will automatically influence the drafts.

“I understand the emotion that’s involved with redistricting,” Cropper said, adding the school system where his own children attend recently went through the process.

The goal, he said, is to follow the “guiding principles” the committee established as a whole.

“No plan is going to be perfect.”

Those principles include:

  • Balancing school facility utilization
  • Accounting for future growth
  • Prioritizing close proximity
  • Establishing clear feeder patterns and continuity
  • Minimizing impact on students
  • Considering economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity

Concerns

Still, parents feel if entire neighborhoods are expressing an opinion, they want the board to take it seriously.

Michelle Richards, who has two children in northern New Hanover Schools, is part of a group that has collected more than 500 signatures on a petition asking that their area not be “split in half.” She is also unhappy with the prospect of her child being zoned for Holly Shelter Middle School, which she says is 15 miles from her home, meaning the travel time would add two hours to her child’s day.

“I think they should really listen to the public, and the people that showed up here tonight, to express their concerns," she said. "I also think, you know, they have these guiding principles for the redistricting study and in our case, our neighborhood’s case, they would be ignoring four of the six guiding principles, and I think that’s just not even acceptable if that’s an option.”

New Hanover County Schools held a meeting on Sept. 17, 2019 to introduce two possible redistricting options.
New Hanover County Schools held a meeting on Sept. 17, 2019 to introduce two possible redistricting options. (Source: WECT)

Richards said she is also concerned the changes won’t fully mitigate the overcrowding problem.

In addition to concerns about distance, walk-ability and space, parents have expressed concern over the effects redistricting will have on diversity at certain schools.

At Wrightsville Beach Elementary, the percentage of white students would be increasing to 97% from 89%, with the new lines indicating no African American students would be zoned for the school, down from 1%, and only 3% of the population being Hispanic, down from 8%.

At Nobel Middle School, the percentage of white students would increase to 84% from 72%, with African American students comprising 2% instead of 10%, and Hispanic representation dropping from 13% to 9%.

Cropper said that is the kind of data they are evaluating and comparing to the guiding principles of the process.

“So it’s possible that some of these options that are on the table right now may have a negative impact on one or two schools, as it relates to different components of data," he said, "and that’s something that we are going to continue to study and be mindful of, and really try to develop a recommendation with this committee that best adheres to those guiding principles as best as possible.”

Next Steps

The redistricting committee will have two more meetings, both of which will be open to the public, before the plans are presented to the school board.

  • Oct. 15: Review public input and potentially modify options
  • Nov. 19: Finalize recommendation
  • Dec. 3: Make recommendation to NHCS board

For more information and materials from Tuesday’s meeting, click here.

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